The Art of Reading Poetry

In fifth grade, my music teacher asked me to recite a poem during our holiday concert. This meant having to stand in front of my classmates, teachers, and parents, and, I guess, read? I practiced it, but practice always felt like a weird term for that. More like, read it over and over in my head. Then, read it over and over out loud. I added some pauses after each line but didn’t really think there had to be more than that. After all, it was just reading aloud. And, reading was something I did all the time.

During dress rehearsal, I went up to the microphone—armed only with my flimsy, single sheet of paper—as my nerves eventually got the best of me. My hands shook. My face flamed. My voice wobbled. It was terrible. Oh, the horror! I was so embarrassed. Everyone must have been wondering why I was chosen. Once rehearsal was over, I dreaded going back to the music room to go over notes for the performance. To my surprise, the only comment I received was “read slower.” So, I slowed down. And, with that, I found the poem more enjoyable. I began to hear the melodies and understand it more.

Poetry is elusive. It’s a joy we experience as children. Its lyrical and musical state lends itself to natural enjoyment to children. But, inexplicably, poetry transforms into an object adults dare not touch. Perhaps its unpopularity lies in the expansive margins or its ability to confuse with so little words. Yet, there was once a time when poetry was highly enjoyed in your own lifetime (childhood) and highly enjoyed in history. We often use the term “poet” or “poetry” to describe something graceful, artful, or just plain beautiful. Sports media use the terms consistently to describe successful athletic endeavors. We find ourselves musing on beautiful things, like sunsets or movies, to be “like poetry.” Interestingly enough, we also use poetry to describe snobbery or college students who don’t know what else to study—a “confusing waste of time.” Why get caught up in it?

Poetry is greatly misunderstood by most everyone. Many believe that all poetry needs to either change your life or confuse you greatly. This misunderstood concept is what keeps so many adults away from poetry. But, poetry can be enjoyable and the key to poetry is to understand that you won’t understand it on first try. There is nothing to “solve” about poetry. The art of reading poetry is merely to pay attention.

Paying attention is the first thing to improve on when reading poetry. You will want to rush through it. Naturally, there’s something in you that wants to finish it as quickly as possible. But, there is no benefit from this. Poetry is meant to both be wrestled with and read many many times. The patterns, the structure, and, the meter can all hide subtle nuances that provide further meaning or understanding only with the fifth time reading it.

Poetry, like any piece of art, requires critical thought. Reading poetry is critical in this day and age and should not be overlooked. Reading and writing poetry improves the ability to condense complex ideas, develop empathy, and increase creativity. The genius of poetry is using language we often already know and placing it in an entirely new context to provide a new depth. For a society that loves innovation and technology, let’s appreciate the innovation of poetry, shall we?

Why is poetry important? Poetry speaks on what it means to be human, to be alive. When we engage fully and presently with poetry, by reading aloud, forming the words with our mouths and reciting it to no one in particular but ourselves, to me, that’s being alive. Sound intimidating? It shouldn’t be. All it takes is a simple word of advice from my music teacher: read slower.

Do you enjoy reading poetry? Check out to explore our library of famous poets and their most notable works. Have specific questions about poetry or other subjects? Take a look at eNotes Homework Help where your questions are answered by real educators.

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